Labor Party Chairman Calls for Merger With Meretz Ahead of Israel Election

Amir Peretz has been under heavy pressure to agree to 'technical' joint-ticket over concerns that parties might not reach threshold to enter Knesset

Labor Chairman Amir Peretz at a party conference on December 25, 2019.
Moti Milrod

The chairman of the Labor Party said there was "no choice" but to merge with Meretz ahead of the March election, after staunchly resisting pressure to do so in the April and September elections.

"We must head toward merging with Meretz," Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz said at a meeting of party leaders. "There's no choice, even if we're doing it against our will," he added.

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The parties had been under heavy pressure to join forces amid concerns that one or both of the left-wing parties could fall short of the electoral threshold required to enter the Knesset.

Sources familiar with the negotiations said the future of the merger between Labor and Orli Levi-Abekasis' Gesher is still unclear, with one source saying that there have been talks toward having her join Kahol Lavan's slate. Levi-Abekasis wrote on Twitter on Sunday: "I agreed with my partner, Amir Peretz, to hold negotations with additional parties, because we must act as the 'responsible adult' of this political campaign [...] Sometimes you have to make technical alliances despite the deep chasm between Gesher and Meretz on all diplomacy and security issues, in order to change policy in the important issues." In an interview with Channel 12, Levi-Abekasis said Peretz had offered her second place on the election slate regardless. 

A main demand by Peretz is that lawmaker Stav Shaffir, who quit Labor to run with Meretz in the September election as part of the Democratic Union alliance, not be included in a joint slate. Shaffir told Channel 13 News on Sunday that she still hopes she will be a member of the next Knesset. "I left the Labor Party to save Meretz," she said. "I alone am responsible for the risk I took. But I took it out of a belief that that is how we would prevent Netanyahu from getting" a majority in the Knesset with his right-wing bloc. "We need to form a strong, democratic Israeli party and not treat it like we are forced to sit together, but rather because we believe in each other."

Peretz is set to meet with Meretz Chairman Nitzan Horowitz on Sunday evening to discuss the potential move, which sources in both parties said would be a so-called "technical" joint-ticket arrangement that would allow both parties to remain completely independent after the election. 

Labor's chairman initially sought to have the party run on its own and then suggested a joint ticket comprised of Kahol Lavan, Labor and Meretz. Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz rejected the idea and called for a merger between the other two parties.

The most prominent member of Labor who expressed support for uniting has been lawmaker Itzik Shmuli, who said Sunday that he welcomed the move and called on the parties' negotiating teams to "come with pragmatism and with good faith to reach a swift agreement."

Meretz lawmaker Tamar Zandberg, the party's previous chairwoman, said a merger had "a great potential not only for the purpose of survival, but also to display a strong left-wing alliance that will be greater than the sum of its part and that will take part in a historic victory for the entire bloc."

Sources in Labor said Sunday that if the parties do not unite for the election, some lawmakers may abandon Peretz and align themselves with Meretz or other parties.

The parties running in the March 2 election have until Wednesday to submit their final rosters. 

Sources in both parties confirmed last week that unofficial feelers had been extended in an attempt to reach an agreement. Labor worries that if it runs with Meretz, it could lose two seats from the “soft right” voters and residents of the periphery who voted for the party because of its merger with Orli Levi-Abekasis' Gesher.

Some polls have projected electoral gains for both parties in the March election, even if they run separately, showing an increase in support for left-wing parties in comparison to the most recent election in September.